"In nineteen sixty-one the Cold War glowed red-hot." Twenty-one year old college student Jimmy Donlin accepted a job offer for a trip "down south," filling a slot left vacant by a technician lost in the Bay of Pigs Invasion a few weeks earlier. Three weeks later he found himself low man on the totem pole of a nine man team of "independent contractors" and in way over his head. Camped on a sandy beach in Panama, their backs to a tangled rain forest, they are confronted by Cuban insurgents, Russian gunboats and a team of American photographers who thought Donlin's group was there to provide cooking and laundry services. Then their quarry showed up and events turned deadly serious.
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Gosling TwoA Novel
By Thomas Dale
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Thomas Dale
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn the dead vast and middle of the night. Shakespeare
Eventually, good luck always runs out. In mid June, 1961, Eddy Rush and I struggled with our assignment of stringing field telephone wire across a marsh near the Rio Sucio estuary on the Pacific side of Panama, down coast of the canal.
Sssssh ... POP!
Eddy and I froze. The noise and brilliant illumination of a parachute flare startled and confused us.
"Jimmy! Who the hell's playing with fireworks?"
"It came from the other side of the swamp, close to where we came in," I whispered, pointing toward a column of white smoke glowing above the brilliant light. I had never seen flares in our inventory. I doubted it could be one of our guys.
Above our corner of the Panamanian jungle, a tiny errant sun burned on a stainless steel leader. Particles of retina-searing white fire drifted over our tracks. It swayed in the faint breeze and slowly descended, filling our edge of the triple canopy rainforest with a harsh, surrealistic light.
A panicky voice shouted only a few yards away. "Javier! ¿Que coños esta pasando?"
In a clearing to our left, we saw two figures tumble from hammocks. Like us, they tried to comprehend a grotesque world etched in Prussian blue shadows and blinding light.
"Jimmy! You take the one on the right!" Eddy shouted and threw himself on the other Cuban sentry. I stood there, one hand filled with a roll of electrician's tape and the other held a pair of wire cutters. "Get him!" Eddy shouted as my man, shielding his eyes from the glare, stumbled toward an M-1 carbine propped against the tree at the foot of his hammock.
Eddy hammered his sentry with heavy blows and I heard the sickening smack of fists on flesh and bone. I stood transfixed as the other sentry reached for the carbine. The paralysis of surprise and fear fell away and I threw the heavy steel wire cutters, striking him behind his right ear. He recoiled in pain and I hit him with a body block coach Rowden would have been proud of, carrying us several yards, but the weapon was in his hands.
How the fuck did I get here?
* * *
My name is James Brendan Donlin, and I've been looking over my shoulder for nearly fifty years.
It's unlikely that anyone can pinpoint the exact moment when they no longer view the world through the eyes of simple and idealistic youth. We cling to concepts of fair play as long as the unfolding events of history will allow, but ultimately witness the extinction of the flawless morality of childhood, the robust faith in our taught, preached, and coached perceptions of right and wrong. Now, across the dinner table, a television screen shows us decency and justice sacrificed to political expediency, in living color with a running commentary. Every night. Details at eleven.
In the end, adolescent illusions are betrayed by chance acquaintances. The demands and compromises of adulthood drag us into a dirty, cynical and complicated reality. My venture into the larger world began at 6 am, on a warm morning in early May, nineteen sixty-one.
Chapter TwoIt is by presence of mind in untried emergencies that the native metal of a man is tested. Abraham Lincoln
At eight o'clock on a muggy morning in early May, 1961, both civilian and military men assembled in building number T-23. The aging two-story wood structure, formerly barracks, stood behind a triple curtain of chain link fences topped with razor wire. It was one of eleven two-story whitewashed converted barracks that housed the temporary quarters of the Caribbean and Central American section of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland.
Shiny-faced Ivy League recruits with short hair and long resumés quick-stepped at the elbows of their mentors, older men with gray hair or balding heads, and tired, jaded expressions. The thump and rattle of folding chairs echoed in the dark interior as they randomly took their seats. Uniformed men of all branches of the armed services, men of quick minds and fearsome resources occupied the first two rows. Representatives from a variety of intelligence-gathering entities filled in behind them. Nervously, they awaited the first in a series of briefings on a very disturbing fragment of news to be detailed by a newcomer to the NSA.
A small and nervous speaker, Dr. Sidney Borden, leaned against a too-tall oak podium and tiptoed to speak into the microphone. Dr. Borden held credentials impressive enough to attract the attention of a think-tank centered at a prestigious eastern university, and win an appointment to the Caribbean and Central American section currently undergoing a drastic restructuring. The shake-up was so extreme that one of its members, while busily packing personal items into a cardboard box, declared, "The damned section isn't being reorganized, it's being turned into sausage."
A helpful figure walked from the wings to the podium and adjusted the mike to a lower position. Dr. Borden nodded his thanks and his heels settled to the floor.
Dr. Borden's recent papers established his credentials and brought him to the attention of the intelligence community. His grave shortcomming was a near-suicidal recklessness of political toes. In his recently published book, An Overview of the History of American Intelligence Service From the Civil War to the Present, he gave General Curtis LeMay credit for developing an efficient aerial intelligence-gathering service where none had existed before, did it well, and without spending enough money to draw attention to his project.
As Dr. Borden introduced himself in academic term in a voice that would have induced a coma in most college sophmores, two naval officers sat near the front and to the right, open briefcases on their knees, reading a high-lighted excerpt from Borden's book.
Half a dozen B47 bombers were overhauled and redesignated RB47E, to be used as extreme altitude photo-reconnaissance platforms. Without the knowledge or consent of the president, they left contrails high over Russia, well above what was believed to be the effective altitude of anti-aircraft measures of the day.
While we can appreciate LeMay's good intentions, impressive security management and resourcefulness, this unquestionably patriotic but arrogant act fell between insubordination and treasonous provocation.
Be that as it may, photos of military bases confirmed what LeMay and other experts of the day suspected; Russian deployment of offensive hardware, even if not technically superior, far surpassed the US.
Commander Lon Crane, an officer in the Naval Security Group, nudged Lieutenant Commander Ashley Knox. "What kind of grades, did you make in history at Annapolis?" he asked in a raspy whisper.
"Brilliant," Knox replied. "But never mind the history lesson. The good doctor has stated information in writing that would have gotten him lynched a year ago. LeMay still carries a lot of weight in Washington."
Crane smiled as he remembered a late evening at The Sopwith Club and a conversation with several of his Air Force counterparts. They had served with Le May and endured months of terror. The General had a beautiful daughter who considered any base her private hunting preserve. Obliging officers were then caught between lust and LeMay. The sweet young thing yanked their chains mercilessly. If they complained that a proposed date conflicted with duty roster she suggested that she speak to "Daddy" and get it changed. She usually got what she wanted.
Borden's intro was brief, his voice reverberating in the dim room, and he leapt feet first into the crux of the current turmoil. With no allegiance to any political party or intel group, bare facts flew like schrapnel.
Dismissing his introduction with a wave of the hand, Borden launched into a tirade over the current intelligence blunders, starting with the Powers incident. "By the late fifties a second-generation spy plane, now with the knowledge and consent of President Eisenhower, carried a new camera developed by Edwin Herbert Land. Gary Powers carried one of these cameras on his U-2 when he was shot down May first of last year. Ivan's improved technologies proved an unpleasant surprise for heads of the CIA's U-2 program, demonstrating that not all intel can be provided by high altitude photography." Dr. Borden, aware that each group present knew fragments of what he presented also knew that most never knew all the details, never got the full picture. In his classes he used the example of a hawk watching a snake pass through tall grass ... it could see enough to know its a snake but never saw the entire snake. He also knew his name would emblazen smoldering memos and reports within the hour, licked his fingers and turned a page in his notes.
"After a long series of such encroachments into Russian air space, several of LeMay's planes were lost with full crews, more than matching the losses of KGB infiltrations right here in our own country. These episodes have have kept us teetering on the brink of all-out war for over a decade. Of course, I refer most recently to Rudolph Abel and his all too successful network of boots-on-the-ground agents which we are still dismantling. I offer up this little history lesson because the events I've mentioned are the latest links in a chain connecting us to the current issue I will present today; the latest Russian response to a future burdened with the most potentially disasterous possiblities imaginable.
"The on-going Powers trial is only a minor disaster." Borden paused for effect.
"April seventeenth, nineteen sixty-one, only two weeks ago, we witnessed a major disaster, both militarily and politically: the miserable fiasco called the Bay of Pigs Invasion." Borden's eyes darted nervously about the room at the thirty-four men who sat with pens poised over note pads, breathing now a forgotten function.
"Launched from Tuxpan in eastern Mexico, anti-Communist, anti-Castro Cubans, and friends, launched a massive invasion effort on the south coast of Cuba.
"With the expectation of air support, Cuban patriots rushed onto Playa Larga, code-named Red Beach, and Playa Giron, code-named Blue Beach. There had been perhaps, a modest possibility of success with air cover, but without it, no chance whatsoever," Dr. Borden said through clenched teeth, obviously contemptuous of men in the audience he blamed for the failure through sloppy planning and for failing to convince President Kennedy of the necessity of air support from Guantanamo.
Knox and Crane glanced at each other with raised eyebrows. "Borden is a mad-man stomping through a minefield!" Knox muttered.
"Committed to disavowing involvement, our newly sworn-in President Kennedy signed approval to launch the invasion." Crane could hear career analysts sucking air as Borden put his shiny-new career on the line by placing the blame for the Bay of Pigs squarely where it belonged. "But for reasons no sane person could comprehend, he chose to ignore the persistent arguments from his military advisors and intelligence teams. I think we all know some of those men are in this room even as I speak. President Kennedy refused air support. His reasons were, in part, based on his knowledge that a dozen WWII surplus B26s and B25s were already committed to the mission, supposedly piloted by American-trained Cuban exiles. In reality, American super-patriots flew half of these planes. They were young men from Air National Guard units in Texas, Mississippi and Alabama. Someone close to Kennedy thought this would be enough.
Tagically, it wasn't. The lack of modern fighters from the Navy base at Guantánamo, and our failure to discover just how large Castro's secret air force had become assured the dismal tragedy that resulted."
The room filled with grumblings and epithets. Borden paused, waiting for the audience to quiet down. He glared at men he felt cared more about their jobs than their country, and with a vicious sweep of his hand turned another page. Chairs rattled and clattered as several men rose and left.
"The current, ill-conceived White House cover-up will crumble, gentlemen," Borden continued in a voice quavering in rage. "It will crumble under the flood of detailed reports poring in from reputable news agencies. Initial accounts were rebuked, deemed as unreliable, content and origins unsubstantiated. International reporting agencies have been painted with a red brush, as communist sympathizers. It won't stick. Several foreign embassies and Bay of Pigs survivors have given accounts to international news agencies with good credentials and a long history of reliability, and they are sharing film and copy with the world."
Aides from the back of the room pushed carts loaded with manila envelopes down the aisle. They counted the occupants in each row and passed out packets of aerial photos.
"This morning, newspapers carried a release from government sources blaming a 'renegade component within the Central Intelligence Agency.' I was informed a few minutes ago that Allen Dulles met with the president yesterday and was asked to step down as head of the CIA."
Thirty voices hummed with the shocking reminder that their exclusive niches were not protected from the vagaries of politics.
"Our concern now is to answer this one question; given that Castro and a communist Cuba will be with us for a while, what does Russia hope to gain by developing closer ties with Cuba?" Dr. Borden paused and peered at his audience.
"Leverage, gentlemen, leverage," he answered. "In Turkey our air bases and Jupiter missile installations array thousands of warheads against every significant Russian target. Cuba can provide the ground for Russia to establish a mirror image of the American nuclear threat and impose a similar level of fear on this country."
Voices rumbled in the darkened room, some expressing doubts that the Russians would dare push their luck that far. Others nodded complete agreement with Dr. Borden's assessment. "There is good reason to believe the Russians are already laying the groundwork to provide nuclear armament to Cuba, and eventually the rest of Central and South America," Borden announced bluntly. "That brings us to today's topic. Last February, a huge barge came through the Panama Canal, another is on its way, and a third is under construction in Japan."
An hour later, Lon Crane stared blankly into his opened leather briefcase at the close of the session. The aerial recon photos could be wrong, he thought. The inspectors signed off on the first barge as a floating miniature refinery. The Cubans might have discovered oil reserves and negotiated for a cracking plant. From the air, one twelve hundred barrel tank can look a lot like another.
The other members of the briefing session stood and conversed in low tones. Nervous hands shuffled copies of reports and eight by ten glossies of high altitude views of a Russian naval base on the Kamchatka Peninsula where the barge had been outfitted with the tanks and machinery it required. There were also photos of four Cuban harbors, including the harbor of Mariel, just outside Havana.
Dr. Borden perspired heavily in the center of a small group of analysts who physically towered over him, but he stood his ground on the report's accuracy and the intelligence supporting it. Crane heard him loudly rebuff arguments against the report being outragously inconsistent with current political views. Borden shook his fist in the air in frustration. "I'm not a politician and neither are you. This is hard intelligence and the politicians will just have to deal with it. I pity the idiot who puts his neck on the line by trying to twist this into something less or different than it is!"
It's much too early to hit the panic button, Lon Crane thought to himself, and closed the lid to his briefcase. Then why do I have this knot in the pit of my stomach?
Commander Ashley Knox walked beside Crane as they approached "the coal mine" at Langley later that afternoon. Knox and Crane were Navy Intelligence's liaison with the CIA, and best friends. "What are the Dutch doing, getting mixed up with the goddamned Russians and Cubans? They're NATO members, f'Chris'sakes! It doesn't make sense!" Knox objected as they passed through the first security checkpoint.
"There's no solid evidence they are," Crane fired back. "This new barge may be carrying papers from New Zealand, for all we know. Forged papers are nothing new in this game. And the Japanese will work for anyone who flashes a bankroll. That doesn't mean they're doing any more than chasing a profit. Hell, next time, maybe the Russians will have a barge built at the Electric Boat Works at Groton, Connecticut."
Excerpted from Gosling Two by Thomas Dale Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Dale. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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